Sexuality and Reproductive Health Education (SRHE) is a fundamental human right every child must not be denied, as countries around the world progress to achieve the 2030 agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Governments are working hard to make Comprehensive Sexuality Education accessible to all as SRHE is directly linked to achieving the global goals.
But collective efforts being made in Ghana to integrate SRHE in the formal education sector seems unsuccessful and this is basically due to ingrained spirituality, religion, culture, faith and tradition.
So, the question one has to ask is that, ‘should spirituality and religion deny girls the right to sexuality and reproductive health education?
Araba (not her real name) said she was 12 years when she first had her menstruation, an experience that left an indelible scar in her mind.
She said she was staying with her step-mother at the Abronye village where it was a taboo for a girl or boy to speak about sexuality.
“No girl in the village knew anything about adolescence, but one day the unexpected happened to me. It was one afternoon when I was playing with my mates in school when I realised some blood stains in my underwear. Because I did not know anything about menstruation, I was seriously traumatized”
“Who are you going to explain this to? I knew my step-mother was going to roast me alive if she got to know about my condition. It was a serious nightmare for me”.
“I could not cope with the bleeding so I confided in my friend Esi, who unknowingly was also going through the same experiences and problems. It affected us emotionally and we nearly stopped schooling because we thought at that time we were cursed and will die very soon”.
So, Araba said she and her friend Esi were left with no other option than to reveal the secret to their school madam as they could not cope with the situation any longer, though they used tattered clothing to manage themselves.
It was until then that she realised and understood menstruation was not a curse, but a biological make-up of girls.
Today, the 55-year-old Araba and her friend Esi are renowned gender activists, and they are moving around the world advocating girls’ rights to sexuality and sex education.
SRHE remains the crossroads at which education and health meet, as it is vital to advancing health outcomes and gender equality and provide young people, especially girls the tools they require to have healthy lives and relationships.
It also helps girls to navigate life-changing decisions about their sexual and reproductive life, yet in Ghana majority of adolescents lack the knowledge needed to make those decisions responsibly, leaving them vulnerable to coercion, sexually-transmitted infections and diseases as well as unintended pregnancies, and consequently unsafe abortion.
“If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents,” Dr. Natalia Kanem, the UNFPA Executive Director quoted at a high-level meeting on advancing sexuality education held at Oslo, Norway in December 2017.
According to her, many young people around the globe received a range of scientifically incorrect and confusing messages about sexuality and gender on a daily basis, and as a result, poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes were realities of many young people today.
ARHR Project Intervention
It is against this background that state and non-state actors, as well as all stakeholder must support a project being implemented by the Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights, a non-governmental organisation in parts of the country.
Being supported by the UNFPA and the Canadian Government, the project aims at helping to identify and provide the adolescent needs of girls in five regions of the country under the theme “Empowering adolescent girls through improved access to reproductive health information and services and quality gender-responsive services”.
The goal of the five-year project which started in 2018 is to improve access to information on reproductive and gender-responsive health services for out-of-school girls between the ages of 10 and 19 years.
It is also to empower adolescent girls by providing them with information on their reproductive health, information on sexual gender-based violence prevention and linking them to health facilities for services as well as to enable them to make informed decisions on their reproductive health rights, as part of a comprehensive strategy to address teenage pregnancy.
Also, more health professionals would build their capacity to provide quality youth-friendly and gender-sensitive sexual and reproductive health services to adolescents.
The beneficiary districts are Komenda-Edina-Eguafo-Abirem in the Central, Bosome-Freho District in Ashanti, South Dayi in Volta, Nzema East in Western and Ashiedu-Keteke sub-district in the Greater Accra Region.
Ultimately, Nii Ankornu Annorbah-Sarpei, Programme Director of ARHR, explained that more adolescent girls would be empowered to exercise their rights on sexual reproductive health.
The project directly targets out-of-school female adolescents between the ages of 10-19 years, marginalised and disadvantaged girls, particularly those with disabilities.
Already, Nii Annorbah-Sarpei said sensitization programmes on gender responsive topics relating to sexual reproductive health among 5,000 adolescent girls has been undertaken with 2,000 adolescent girls referred for facility and outreach contraceptive services through girls’ and young people’s peer networks and community mobilization programmes.
Also, 25 girls with disabilities have been trained on sexual reproductive health rights and legal literacy.
As Ghana is poised to achieve the SGDs, it is important to make the majority of young people, particularly girls, to know about their reproductive health, as that would spur them to contribute to the SDGs in 2030.
Young people are more aware, informed and interconnected than ever before, and there is an increasing demand for reliable information to prepare them for a safe, productive and fulfilling life.
In our part of the world opposing and denying girls sexual education will do more harm to girls than good.
Therefore, pressing the need for sexual education must not be an increasing politicized issue based on one’s convictions and entrenched position in spirituality and religion, culture and tradition, as well as misinformation spread by the most conservative elements in society.
This calls for the need for a national discourse that will help change the dynamics, and debunk misconception in sexuality education with facts and evidence.
By doing so, this writer believes the nation will not only advance processes in achieving the SDGs, but many girls would be empowered enough to understand sexuality and reproductive health to enable them make informed decisions.
By Dennis Peprah